By Tom Carpenter, Editor at Pheasants Forever
Compared to the full sweep and sprawl of my beloved western Minnesota, the parcel of prairie grass bisected by a couple weedy draws draining into a willowy lowland tangle was a mere postage stamp at best.
Lark the little Epagneul Breton and Rascal the gallant old Brittany (who was mostly just riding along and supervising from the back seat) and I had passed the place a half-dozen times over the previous two days last fall as we drove back and forth to the area’s extensive and well-known complex of WMAs and WPAs to hunt roosters.
The 40-acre square of land resided along a busy county road. But I had yet to see a hunter’s rig parked there, despite the invitation of lime-yellow Walk-In Access signs.
Maybe the spot’s accessibility and familiarity made it forgotten.
“Let’s do it,” I told the eager young dog as we pulled off and got ready. I figured we would work some puppy exuberance off her before hitting the classic big spreads of public land nearby. A bluebird late-October morning welcomed us as Rascal settled in for a snooze behind open windows.
Along the top edge, near the road. Maybe a bird walked in here from the standing corn across the blacktop. Down the east edge a little ways, then back westward, halfway between road and wetland. The little bird dog gets birdy a couple times but no birds.
Still, the sky is blue, the sun shines, the little dog cruises with joy.
Then, as we’re working the wetland edge itself back eastward for one last swath, I know it’s for real: Her manner, her crouch, her points, her repositioning as I follow and listen to my heart pound and her bell tinkle amidst the prairie breeze.
The bell stops. Where is she? I take a step. A rooster erupts from a willow edge and as with most birds I manage to hit, the young rooster is on the ground before I can think and calculate myself into a miss. We arrive at the bird at the same time, the little dog digging the young bird out of a brushy grassy tangle before we sit down back up on the dry ground and admire our resplendent prize.
Back at the vehicle now. I let my other dog, at the other end of her bird hunting life, out for a little walk. I take the gun, to call it a hunt, but a hundred yards is all she can do.
Then we all three lay there awhile in the sun roadside, soaking up the day and replaying one of my young dog’s first roosters shot just minutes before and one of the old dog’s last walks, for I said goodbye to her forever two days later, a farewell I have yet to be able to tell you about.
As I lift her back up into the vehicle, Rascal gives my wrist a lick of, thanks? And little Lark stares at me with perked ears as if saying: Where we goin’ next?
All thanks to publicly accessible land -- a little postage stamp of tawny prairie grass and pungent wildflower stems and dried-up weed stalks and lowland willows that aren’t ours but now in our hearts are.